Fair warning: This blog is a bit longer than usual, and probably only of interest to basketball fans. It’s a collection of notes and fond memories from attending my first NBA ever game.
I love the mass-transit system that took us literally to the foot of the steps leading up to the front entrance. No stress, no parking hassle, no fighting game-night traffic. Beautiful! All cities need to do this. Especially mine.
(While we were waiting in line to get in, the two Jazz fans behind us were discussing the playoffs, and one of them was saying that since he had been living in Cleveland for a long time of his childhood, he’d feel very torn and conflicted and not knowing who to root for if the Jazz faced the Cavs in the playoffs. I am proud to say that I was able to resist the urge to tell him not to worry, he won’t have that problem any time soon; it’s not the poor guy’s fault he’s a bit delusional. )
Once in the stadium the positive impressions continued. Lots of happy fans from both sides, friendly trash talking and lots of places to buy food. Since we had been driving for about six hours and were starving, we split up in a two-front attack. My better half foraged for food while I went for the nearest beer stand. They charged me a price that might have been justified if they had handed me a keg of beer and not a couple of plastic cups that frankly were not nearly large enough. At least it was fairly good beer, but still, the positive impressions of the stadium came to a screeching halt.
Grumbling and eager to find our seats so I could eat my pizza and drink the expensive beer, I regrouped with my better half in section 127, row 2. For being nosebleed section seats, they were nice. We have a full view of the entire floor, but still close enough that we could see and recognize the faces of the Lakers that were down there warming up. We said hi to the Jazz fans on either side of us, joked about how we both hoped the other team would lose, and said hi to the six Laker fans in the row in front of us as well.
Then we ate pizza and watched the pre-game shoot around. I was surprised to hear that the Jazz fans were booing the Lakers even during the warm-up, and I was impressed by their dedication.
I don’t think Farmar missed a single shot. I don’t think Lamar was serious for the entire time I was watching. I don’t think there was a less active player on the floor the entire night than Adam Morrison during the warm-up. Also, though that might be the perspective and angle we had to the floor, I don’t think Ron Artest looks quite as hulking big in person. DJ Mbenga on the other hand does.
Then the Jazz players entered the floor for their warm-up.
Wow. That place gets loud.
Part of it might be the acoustics, the arena is obviously built to keep the noise in and force it back downwards, but the crowd was just as much of a factor. No wonder the Jazz are tough to beat at home! Even sitting above the rail, the noise is deafening. Down on the floor it must be down-right suffocating.
When the visiting team’s starting line-up was announced the Jazz fans booed loudly, loudest of all for Derek Fisher. We put our beers in the cup holders so we could stand up and cheer at the top of our lungs with the other Laker fans in the building, but we could barely make ourselves heard over the booing. Of course we didn’t let that stop us from trying. Then we sat back down to finish our pizza while the home team was announced.
If the noise during the warm-up was loud, the roar during the slide-show on the big screen was ear-splitting, and unbelievably it became even louder when the starters were announced. Interestingly, while the Jazz players were getting all the spotlight, lining up on their side of the floor and the dancers were doing their thing on the middle of the court, I looked over to the Laker bench, and noticed that Ron Artest was out on the floor, all by himself, and moving back and forth in the painted area under the basket. I have no idea what he was doing, but it looked like a warm-up drill of some kind.
And then the game started.
Everything is a bit of a blur past this point. The intensity of the crowd, the game, the whole event, makes it hard to pick out specific pieces. I remember shouting to Ron Artest to stop trying to shoot and just pass the ball. I remember jumping up and down and sharing high fives with all Laker fans around us when Shannon dunked and Farmar hit perimeter shots. I remember being happy to see the Lakers move the ball well and swiftly, remember that I was impressed by how stubbornly they refused to give in on defense.
I remember thinking that Lamar played one of the best games I’ve ever seen him play, and the same for Pau Gasol. I remember jumping to my feet and cheering when Ron finally made that layup, after elbowing his way into the post and shoving the defenders out of the way. I remember I was happy that Fisher got to drive into the post and make a very athletic spin and layup in Utah of all places.
Most of all, I remember the noise. The ear-splitting, migraine-inducing, never-ending noise. The crowed never went quiet. Never. Even when the Jazz were down by nearly 20 points, there were scattered chants of “Defense! Defense!” especially from the upper sections. When Kirilenko hit a shot to cut the Laker lead from 16 to 14 the crowd roared as if he’d made a buzzer-beating game winner. They kept doing that through the entire game, especially during the Jazz run in the beginning of the fourth quarter.
I also remember that despite their reputation as hating all things Lakers, all the Jazz fans I met and talked to were friendly and pleasant, and seemed impressed that we were willing to drive for six hours just to watch our team play. In fact, the least classy and by far most unpleasant behavior I saw was exclusively from people claiming to be Laker fans.
That irritated me. I joined the surrounding Jazz fans in expressing my disdain and contempt for such unsportsmanlike behavior; of course also adding that true Laker fans would not behave that way. True Laker fans are also basketball fans, and you can’t be a fan of the game and not appreciate the talent and tenacity of the other good teams in the league, and the Jazz is one of them. No, they’re not NBA Finals material this year, but that doesn’t mean they’re not very good. They never gave up, they never stopped fighting, and for that alone they deserve respect.
It was a very good night.